Thursday, 29 January 2015

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Published: 29th January 2015
Genres: Young Adult
Stars: ****

The Blurb

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

My Thoughts

This book is such a difficult book for me to review because the subject matter is one that has touched my personally and although it never resulted in such tragic consequences it opened my eyes to just how things could have turned out.

The book starts with Cody finding out that her best friend Meg has committed suicide. She finds out in a letter that is sent via email by Meg herself and the letter starts 'I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life' . It seems so cold & calculated, so business like and from someone who sounds like they are just resigning from life. This happens on the very first page of the book so is our first glimpse at both Cody & Meg & from page one you just need to know what happened to a) make Meg take her own life & to b) find out how Cody copes with her loss.

Cody is an only child who has grown up being looked after by a single mother who she calls Tricia instead of mum. She had been best friends with Meg for forever & was very much part of the furniture at Meg's house, made welcome by Meg's parents Joe & Sue and her younger brother, Scottie. It is because of the relationship that Cody has with Meg's family that they ask her if she will go to Meg's room at Cascades University near Seattle to bring home Meg's stuff. And so what follows is Cody's journey to retrieve Meg's belongings and her journey into finding out what made Meg do what she did. A journey that makes her realise that just maybe she didn't know her best friend as much as she thought she did.

Of course it wouldn't be a Gayle Forman book without a love interest for Cody & he comes in the form of Ben, a guitarist with a band who it turns out that Meg had been in a sort of relationship with. Unfortunately at times the relationship between Cody & Ben didn't quite work for me, it felt a little strained & contrived and the chemistry wasn't always there. I do say at times though because sometimes it worked maybe Cody didn't actually need a love interest maybe we should have just been able to see her finding answers & exploring Meg's life in Seattle without a relationship needing to be thrown in. At times the relationship overshadowed the more important issues surrounding Meg's suicide and perhaps even trivialised it.

The subject of suicide and mental health issues are ones that need to be discussed especially in young adult fiction. From my point of view having lived with someone who has experienced such issues I thought that Gayle Forman tackled the subject matter sensitively. It is all too easy to assume that if someone is suicidal that they will show obvious symptoms of depression, wallowing in their own self pity day after day. My experience of someone who is suicidal is that they are very clever at hiding how they are actually feeling, in fact they can be the life & soul of the party & I think this came through perfectly in Forman's writing.

The relationship between Cody & Tricia was extremely well written & I really enjoyed their scenes together. Cody has obviously had a troubled upbringing but it is clear that her mother has tried to do her best by her daughter. Then right at the end we see just how strong the mother/daughter relationship is. Tricia added an sense of almost light relief to what is a very difficult story to read.

All the slightly negative things aside I did like the book. It was nowhere near on the same level as If I Stay which I adored but it did give an insight into what happens to those left behind after a suicide. We see Cody go through all the stages of grief - sadness, grief, anger! We actually feel her pain more than we do Meg's and this does allow a connection with Cody as a character.

Overall I found the book both heartbreaking and touching, it was a real eye opener and this issue around how Meg planned to kill herself is quite alarming. What I enjoyed most about the book was Cody's journey, she had always seen herself as the quiet one compared to Meg and it was good to see her come from out of the shadows & show such strength in a time of great sadness. Well worth a read.

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